The Door to Hell
Friday, 3rd July 2009 by Alex Steinberger
The Darvaza (Darweze) natural gas crater is an endlessly smouldering geological anomaly located in the isolated Karakum Desert of Turkmenistan. Known locally as the “Door to Hell,” this close relative of the “Pool of Fire” and little-known tourist attraction has been on fire for at least three decades.
Above, we see the natural gas crater (barely) as a glowing red spot in an otherwise unremarkable landscape. Given the low quality of the satellite imagery in this area, it is surprising that anyone knows that the “Door to Hell” even exists. This begs the rather existential question: if a crater is burning in the middle of nowhere, does anyone see it?
As a matter of fact, a group of Russian geologists experienced it first hand in 19711 when the ground beneath their drilling equipment collapsed creating the abyss. Dispatched to the Karakum desert by the Soviet Union, they were searching for natural gas and found so much of the stuff that harvesting it became unsafe. With noxious gases threatening to harm nearby villages, the geologists set the seeping crater ablaze, unwittingly lighting the largest barbecue known to man.
The “Door to Hell” crater has been on fire ever since and shows no sign of stopping. Visible from a great distance, the glow from this eternal flame can even be seen in Google Earth’s City Lights layer.
Wow, that’s bright! Visitors to Turkmenistan can venture out to see hell first hand, but there aren’t any organised tours so you have to hire your own driver2. Now who’s up for toasting the World’s Largest S’more?
Thanks to Cris Diaz and Marc Buma
Depending on the source, at least three separate years, 1958, 1971, and 1986, are listed for when the expedition took place. I chose to go with Wikipedia’s 1971 date, mostly because it was in between the other two. ↩